A Win for Free Speech and Sound Public Health in the Supreme Court

For Immediate Release
June 20, 2013

A Win for Free Speech and Sound Public Health in the Supreme Court
Statement by Population Action International President & CEO Suzanne Ehlers

“Today, in a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a 2003 law that forces private health organizations to have an official policy opposing prostitution as a condition of receiving U.S. funding, ruling that the “anti-prostitution pledge” unfairly restricts First Amendment rights. This condition was added by Congress in the initial authorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The ruling was a result of a nearly decade-long fight by a coalition of groups that care not only about free speech rights, but about the basic rights of men and women around the world to access health care. The plaintiffs were also joined by a diverse group of organizations, current and former Members of Congress, and individuals from across the political spectrum in opposing this harmful policy.

In addition to the serious free-speech concerns, requiring organizations to explicitly oppose prostitution makes it difficult to establish the trust necessary to provide basic health services to sex workers. This serves to drive these men and women further underground and away from the HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment services they need, including access to reproductive health and contraceptive services that could protect them from HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infection and unintended pregnancies.

We at PAI believe in access to safe, effective basic health care for all people—including the most vulnerable and hardest to reach—and that evidence, not ideology, should drive policy governing public health programs. Our colleague organizations have documented numerous examples of the pledge’s harmful effects, such as a condom shortage among sex workers in Mali, the withholding of safe sex information from young male sex workers in Cambodia, and the closure of community-based health centers in Bangladesh. Eliminating this harmful policy brings us one step closer to achieving PEPFAR’s goal of an AIDS-free generation.

Today we congratulate those colleagues on a well-deserved victory, and celebrate the expanded opportunities for health organizations globally to continue their critical, lifesaving work without sacrificing the right and ability to speak freely.”